Taking their seats: Flexible classroom provides variety of learning options

Published 1:48 am Tuesday, April 18, 2017

By Christian Coffman

The Natchez Democrat

NATCHEZ — For a West Elementary School teacher, the way to better grades and student productivity, may be through yoga balls and beanbag chairs. 

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Third grade math and science teacher Amanda Mercer has done away with the traditional school desks in her class and opted to turn her room into a flexible classroom — a recent trend in education that gives students the opportunity to choose from a variety of seating options in the classroom.

Mercer said she got the idea from Natchez-Adams School District Testing Coordinator and Response to Instruction Coordinator Jessica Rankin, who provides teachers with interventions to help students who are struggling.

Rankin said getting students to learn in a comfortable environment is the ultimate goal of a flexible classroom.

“I think that it’s just a matter of getting out of our comfort zones,” Rankin said. “Teachers have a tendency to do what’s been done over and over again. Providing (students) with different means to exist in a classroom environment allows them to adapt to the curriculum more quickly.”

Mercer said her flexible seating environment allows children to sit on yoga balls, in beanbag chairs, on circular cushions, kneel on padded wedges or use standing desks.

“It gets them comfortable, since they get to sit or stand how they want,” Mercer said. “It increases their grades, makes their behavior improve and makes them want to participate more in class. A child’s comfort is dependent on the individual child.”

Mercer said she has read recent articles about flexible classrooms that reported student academic improvement in a few weeks.

“I’m hoping that achievement and behavior increases,” Mercer said. “I’m going to keep regular seats for bad kids to be moved to for ten minutes or so as a form of punishment.”

The idea for a flexible classroom was approved Director of Curriculum Alice Morison and Superintendent Fred Butcher. 

Mercer’s flexible classroom is a pilot program for the school district Butcher recently told the NASD school board. The district will look at the results from Mercer’s class and determine if the learning environment is productive and worth expanding, Butcher said.

After only using a flexible classroom setup for approximately a week, Mercer said she already sees an improvement in her students’ focus.

“The kids know the rules and they sit the correct way and do their work,” Mercer said. “They’re really enjoying it and are concentrating on their work more than they have in the past.”